The Face (Lie to Me?)

I have a face. I figured this out today. I was asking one my students– truly a great kid, smile like a million stars, gentle lovely sense of humor, and no work ethic whatsoever– to find some deeply necessary notes from our last class. I kept my voice low, friendly, but firm, and thought I was managing well, until I found myself really noticing what my mouth and eyes were doing at the same time.

Eyes: slightly widened and held taut in that shape, rather like hard-boiled eggs. Mouth: molded into one, continuous, thin line by pulling in most of the lips between the teeth.

And I said to myself: what the hell was that?

Well, according to some inferences I draw from the SAGE Handbook of Communication (2006), this was my Silly Putty attempt to convey connection, power, inclusion and disapproval all at once. Great stuff. Next time I think I’ll try Spanish, Urdu and Klingon in the same sentence.

From the New York Times, 2006:

Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell pioneered the original study of nonverbal communication-what he called “kinesics.” Birdwhistell made some similar estimates of the amount of nonverbal communication that takes place between humans. He estimated that the average person actually speaks words for a total of about ten or eleven minutes a day and that the average sentence takes only about 2.5 seconds. Birdwhistell also estimated we can make and recognize around 250,000 facial expressions.

Like Mehrabian, he found that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35 percent and that over 65 percent of communication is done nonverbally.

I’ve got some bodily awareness to sharpen up, friends. Do you?

And by the way, what does this mean when it comes to the supplantation of face-to-face communication with that Facebook-thingy I’m messing around with now? (Doubt me? Read this.)

7 thoughts on “The Face (Lie to Me?)

  1. Dina,

    You bring up a point that was raised yesterday in our new teacher meeting: let’s make sure we continue to stress face-to-face rather than wall-to-wall.

    If we read the underpinnings of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and pay attention to it and various other documents like it, what we see in them is a turn towards not only communication and collaboration, but also teamwork. If we are collaborating, and we are not face-to-face, my ability to judge your nonverbal communication is diminished. To me, there is some wholly other skill in communicating via text message, email, social networking, that negatively supplants the face-to-face communication.

    However, this is what we have now. How we relate to one another in person still remains a paramount skill for ourselves and our students, but the idiosyncrasies of relating in that other realm needs to be figure out, and quickly.

  2. As a first grade teacher I don’t read the blogs of too many high school teachers. This post reminded me of why I read yours. Thanks for pushing me to reflect on this (especially in relation to a student with autism).

  3. Please add Mr. Birdswhistell to the list of people I need to avoid.

    On another note, maybe your next student will convey something like this:

    A substantive response to your question

    Eewww…feeling bitter today.

    Can you see it on my face?

  4. @Ken(in a sympathetic but gently chiding tone): Dude, what’s with the scientific avoidance thing? This comment is not worthy of you. I’ll leave it at this: I never said the child *didn’t* give me a substantive response.

    @Jenny: thanks, as always. Means a lot when my spontaneous meanderings about a given work day help someone else.

    @Patrick and Mr.Teach: Ordered Blink from Amazon (big smile) and this is exactly the crux of the argument, yes? I have stated repeatedly that some of the richest professional development I have ever experienced has occurred through the blog– but I would never embark on a long-term detailed project with its members without at least phone contact. (Why do we always jump to Skype in the end, anyway? Why do even the most digitally-saturated of us still conceive of the face-to-face meeting as the actualization of a relationship?)

    Similarly, I find I love Facebook for its instantaneous, daily reinforcement– of *relationships I have already established face to face.*

    These differences between my digital experience and that of my students’ are essential.

  5. I’d say you are plenty _aware_, seeing’s how you just wrote a whole blog post about the circumstances around a single facial expression. (And that you are, at least, aware, puts you ahead of many of us.) 🙂

    Also, your “Spanish, Urdu, and Klingon” line made me lol, ferrealz.

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